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Top starter credit cards of 2022
Picking up one of the best first credit cards can make a ton of sense if you need a way to build credit from scratch. Not only are the best credit cards for beginners easy to qualify for, but the fact they report to the three credit bureaus gives you a chance to prove you're responsible. Some starter cards even offer rewards on your spending, and many offer a handful of cardholder perks or benefits as well, ranging from a free FICO credit score to travel protections.
As you look for a credit card that can help you get started, you'll probably notice that some are secured credit cards, meaning they require a cash deposit as collateral to get started. Other beginning credit cards are student credit cards or basic unsecured cards that are geared to consumers with fair or limited credit.
ValuePenguin took a closer look at all credit cards to see which ones are truly the best for credit newcomers in 2022. Keep reading to learn more about these card options, their pros and cons and who they're best for.
Best first credit card for students
Discover it® Student Cash Back Credit Card
Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
The Discover it® Student Cash Back Credit Card is easily one of the top credit cards for students due to its generous rewards program. This card lets you Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically. Discover will even match all the rewards you earn at the end of the first year.
This card features an Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
- Generous cash match offer in the first year for new cardholders
- Bonus 5% rewards categories are capped at $1,500 in spending each quarter
- You have to enroll in the 5% categories each quarter to earn the bonus
- You only earn 1% cash back on other purchases
Best first time secured credit card
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
Secured credit cards require a refundable security deposit as collateral, yet these cards are the easiest to qualify for if you have no credit history or you have made credit mistakes in the past. Either way, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card is one of the best secured credit cards by far, mostly due to the fact that you can earn rewards. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card gives out 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically. Discover will even match all rewards earned at the end of the first year for new cardholders.
Your credit limit will be equal to the deposit you put down with this card, so you'll only start off with $200 in available credit if you put down a $200 cash deposit. However, your monthly payments will be reported to the credit bureaus, so you can build credit over time. Cardholders also get a free FICO credit score every month.
- Secured credit cards are some of the easiest to qualify for
- Earn rewards on all your spending, then see your rewards matched at the end of 12 months
- Reports to the three credit bureaus
- Discover will automatically review your account starting at seven months to see if you're eligible to upgrade to an unsecured credit card
- Cash deposit required to get started
- Credit limit is equal to your security deposit
Runner-up for best first time secured credit card
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card does not offer rewards for spending, which is part of the reason it's the runner-up in this category. With that said, this secured credit card does let consumers get started with a security deposit as low as $49, and an initial line of credit of at least $200. There's no annual fee either, and you can be considered for a higher credit limit in as little as six months.
The Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, and you can get prequalified online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.
- Get started with a refundable security deposit of $49, $99 or $200
- Reports to the three credit bureaus
- $0 annual fee
- Get prequalified online
- No rewards for your spending
- High APR of 26.99% (Variable) on purchases
Best first time credit card from Chase
Chase Freedom® Student credit card
$50 Bonus after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening
Chase offers a student credit card that can be incredibly valuable for those who want to build credit and earn some rewards in the process. The Chase Freedom® Student credit card starts new cardholders off with a $50 Bonus after first purchase made within the first 3 months from account opening. Cardholders can also Earn 1% cash back on all purchases plus $20 Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary for up to 5 years, and there is no annual fee.
Also, cardholders may be able to qualify for a credit line increase after you make at least five on-time payments within 10 months of account opening. A free credit score is also offered as a cardholder perk.
- Earn rewards for spending and good grades
- Reports to the three credit bureaus
- Can qualify for a higher line of credit in as little as 10 months
- Lower rewards rate than some competing cards for beginners
Best first time credit card from Capital One
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One lets you earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases; 0.25% Cash Back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time (which you should be doing already). There's a $0 annual fee, and you can even qualify for up to $60 per year in credits for streaming services, which are doled out as monthly credits of $5.
This card is ideal for building credit since it's marketed to people with a "Average/Fair/Limited" credit score, and Capital One reports to all three credit bureaus. You can also be eligible for a credit line increase in as little as six months.
- Earn more cash back when you pay your bill on time
- Qualify for up to $60 in credits for streaming purchases each year
- Qualify for a higher line of credit in as little as six months
- $0 annual fee
- High APR of 26.99% (Variable)
Best first credit card for travel
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
Students who want to build up a stash of rewards for travel should consider the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students. This card offers an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases, which can be redeemed for statement credits to cover travel purchases like flights, hotels, vacation packages, rental cars, cruises or baggage fees. On top of that, new cardholders can earn 25,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening.
New customers can also qualify for an introductory APR of 0% for first 15 months on purchases, followed by an APR of 13.99%-23.99% variable. There are 0% foreign transaction fees or annual fees either.
- No annual fee, foreign fees or hidden fees
- Earn rewards on spending
- Redeem rewards for travel purchases without worry over blackout dates or capacity controls
- Intro APR offer lets you save interest on new purchases for 12 months
- High variable interest rate on purchases (after intro offer) and balance transfers
Best first credit card after college
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
- Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
- Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
- Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
- Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options
- Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
- Transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
- No foreign transaction fees
Once you have graduated college and built up a history of responsible credit use, you can move up to more traditional credit cards with better rewards and terms. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a popular first credit card after college due to its generous rewards and overall flexibility. Once you sign up, you can Earn unlimited 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. The card also offers a fantastic sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
A $95 annual fee applies to this card, but you do get a credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership. When it comes to redeeming your rewards, you can use them for any travel purchases charged to your account, or for transfers to Capital One airline or hotel partners. You can also redeem your rewards for purchases made through Amazon.com or PayPal.
- Earn the same rate on every purchase and a generous sign-up bonus
- Flexible options when it comes to redeeming your rewards
- Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck
- $95 annual fee applies
- Must have excellent credit to qualify
Best first credit card for small business
Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business
The Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business is a starter credit card for small business owners who have fair credit. That makes this card easier to qualify for than many other business credit cards from Capital One, yet you can still earn a flat 1% Cash Back on every purchase.
While there aren't a ton of cardholder perks to look forward to, the Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business does offer free employee cards and no foreign transaction fees.
- $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
- Earn 1% Cash Back on every purchase
- Low rewards rate compared with other business credit cards and some other starter credit cards
- High APR of 26.99% (Variable) for purchases
Compare the best credit cards for excellent credit 2022
Credit Score Needed
|Students: Discover it® Student Cash Back ||Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! So you could turn $50 cash back into $100. Or turn $100 into $200. There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.||600-850||$0|
|Secured: Discover it® Secured Credit Card ||Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.||300-659||$0|
|Runner-up secured: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card ||No bonus||300-599||$0||Not available on ValuePenguin|
Should you get a credit card?
Opening a credit card is an exciting and crucial part of your journey toward financial health. By establishing good financial habits and paying your credit card bills on time, you'll be on the road toward loan approvals and low interest rates. But first, you need to decide which type of credit card best fits your current needs.
For most people, we suggest a simple cashback card that earns 1% to 2% on every purchase.
There are a few cases where you should wait to apply for a credit card:
- If you don't have a stable income stream, for example, you may want to hold off on applying for credit until you can reliably pay off your purchases
- Alternatively, if you have a history of being late with your bills or overdrawing your checking account, you may want to practice responsible financial management with your debit card and checking account first
One of the key components of having a high credit score is the average age of your accounts, so it's important to pick a credit card that you'll be happy to have in your wallet for a long time. This is why it's best that your first credit card is something with no annual fee: If you want to put your expenses on a different card in the future, you can stop using your first credit card without having to cancel it (canceling an older card can decrease your credit score).
Credit card pros and cons
How to choose a first credit card
The best first credit card isn't the same for everyone, which is why you need to think over your situation before you apply. Here are some of the specifics you'll want to consider as you search for a beginning credit card that can help you get started.
It can help to check your credit score before you apply for a starter credit card. You may be able to qualify for an unsecured card if your credit score is "fair" or better, which means your FICO Score is within the 580 to 669 range or higher. If you have a credit score that is lower than that, or you don't have any credit history to speak of, you'll likely need to get started with a secured credit card.
Most starter credit cards come with high APRs, although some offer introductory rates on purchases or balance transfers. Make sure you know and understand the variable APR you'll be charged on your purchases, keeping in mind that you'll be better off if you pay your bill in full and avoid carrying a balance.
Watch out for credit card fees you may be charged, such as annual fees, late fees or foreign transaction fees. Fortunately, some of the best credit cards for beginners come with minimal fees or no fees at all.
If you want to earn rewards on your spending, there are plenty of unsecured cards and secured credit cards to choose from. Make sure to compare rewards rates and consider how they might align with your spending.
Some of the best credit cards for beginners offer a free credit score on your monthly statement, yet others offer the chance for a higher credit limit after six to eight months. Make sure to check for features that can help you improve your credit score even more over the long term.
How to apply for a credit card
While choosing the best first credit card to build credit isn't always easy, applying for a credit card is a breeze. All you have to do is find the card you want and follow these steps:
- Step 1: Find the card you want and click "apply now."
- Step 2: Provide personal information such as your name, your address, your Social Security number and your employment details.
- Step 3: Share your financial information, including your income, your rent or mortgage amount and the type of financial accounts you have.
- Step 4: Wait to see if you're approved, which could happen online in a matter of minutes. You may also find out about your approval status via regular mail.
Note: If you're applying for a secured credit card, you may also be asked to share your banking information for the card issuer to collect your security deposit.
How do you get a credit card with no credit?
If you have no credit at all, then it's likely you'll have to start your journey toward good credit with a secured credit card. While secured credit cards do require collateral, you can sometimes put down as little as $49 to get started.
From there, you'll use your new secured card to make purchases you can afford to pay off, and you get the chance to build good credit with on-time payments. Eventually, you may be able to build your credit score enough to upgrade your card or apply for a different credit card with better perks.
How to use a credit card for the first time
Once you have been approved for the best first credit card you could find, you'll want to be extremely mindful of how you use it. After all, a starter credit card can help you improve your credit score, but making the wrong moves can leave you with worse credit than when you started.
- Pay your bill early or on time. The most important factor that makes up your FICO Score is your payment history. This means that paying your credit card bill early or on time can have a major positive impact on your score, but that late payments can cause unnecessary damage.
- Don't max out your card. Considering your starter credit card may come with a low limit, this tip is important. Make small purchases you can afford to pay off and never use up more than 30% of your credit limit from one month to the next.
- Keep your account open. Choosing a card with no annual fee makes it easy to keep your account open even if you're not using it. This tip is important since the average length of your credit history makes up 15% of your FICO Score, and closing accounts can impact your credit in this category.
- Be patient. The more on-time payments you make on your credit cards, the more depth you add to your credit reports. Improving your credit score can take time, but the effort will be worth it.
FAQs about credit cards for beginners
Recap of the best credit cards for beginners in 2022
- Best for students: Discover it® Student Cash Back Credit Card
- Best secured: Discover it® Secured Credit Card
- Best runner-up secured: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
- Best for Chase: Chase Freedom® Student credit card
- Best for Capital One: Journey Student Rewards from Capital One
- Best for travel: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
- Best for after college: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Best for small business: Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business
To make choosing the right card easier, we've looked at credit cards reviewed on ValuePenguin as well as cards on major issuer sites to compile a list of the best rewards credit cards available right now. Our recommendations are based on the additional value you can earn with the cards — including the rewards value, cost of ownership and value of benefits such as travel and purchase protections, lounge membership and airline companion passes. Our choices are not influenced by our advertisers. Learn more on how we calculate rewards.
The information related to Discover it® Student Cash Back, Discover it® Secured Credit Card, Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card, Chase Freedom® Student credit card, Journey Student Rewards from Capital One, Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students and Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.